“The deadliest shooting in U.S. history.”Those words have weight.
It’s almost unbelievable. There has never been anyone, ever, who took more innocent lives by walking into a place and shooting it up – in the entire history of ou country.
The saddest thing about all this is that the best that the people who are telling us about Virginia Tech and the killings can give to the victims are the exact same headlines, leads and “reasons why” as they did for every school shooting since before Columbine.
Little else about the tragedy has had so much effect. The incident itself is brutal to think about and looking over photos of the thirty two people who were killed on CNN.com is devastatingly sad, enough to make my eyes well up.
But like every other tragedy of this magnitude, the media swoops right in to “get the story”. Good writing, vivid enough to tell us the stories of these people, their lives and how they ended, is ignored in favor of deadlines. Headlines used for school shootings eleven years ago are recycled because it’s easier. No thoughts of slowing down to think about how moral and respectful it is to sum up the loss of thirty-two human beings in a header that still needs to fit in the allotted space. Not thought about using the melodramatic “Venom From the Grave” as a headline for a news story instead of the title for a direct-to-video horror flick.
And along with all that, feelings of disgust and a sinking weight of despair that, yes, newspaper and television news are, like books and film, competing for our entertainment dollars. Not to get the news out, which is the standard response, and not to truly respect and remember the victims, but to get the most viewers and readers to pay attention to your product.
And while predictably fingers will point towards our violent society and videogames and film as the culprit, it’s the media that’s to blame. Knowing that the killer sent a video of himself and his “manifesto” to NBC is telling enough. The fact that clips of that video were shown daily after the shooting, on CNN almost every fifteen minutes, and realizing that the killer got exactly the kind of attention and fame he wanted, from the very news programs that claim to be delving into the reasons why mass-killings like this happen when their one-hour “Why did he do it?” specials air in primetime with games like Grand Theft Auto front and center.
Millions of people bought that game and games like it and millions of people didn’t go out and shoot anyone. Games and films can act as a trigger for someone who is already screwed up but it takes something much bigger than that for them to think of something as encompassing and violent as a school-wide shooting spree.
I know how newsrooms work and I’m guaranteeing that at least a few editors around the country got excited, to themselves if not to others, about having a story like this to fill up the next couple of editions and a few slots in the daily program schedule. Any industry that thrives (and I’m not going out on a limb here) on the tragedies and suffering of human beings is exploitive and backward.
The people who died in that school deserve more than what they’re getting. These weren’t characters in a movie; they were real people with real families and real problems and real homes, jobs, likes, loves and personalities. Treating them as entertainment robs them of the one thing they deserve most: a genuine and respectful good-bye.